Dying with Dignity Canada, the foremost assisted suicide and euthanasia advocacy organization in the country, has begun using members of the clergy to sell the idea of killing patients as a Christian virtue.
The B.C. Catholic, a weekly publication for Catholic residents in Vancouver, spotlighted the campaign, which uses clergy to sell Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) from Anglican, Jewish, and Christian perspectives.
Assisted suicide and suffering
Jan Steven, a devout Christian who also supports Dying with Dignity Canada, claimed the most important facet of Christianity without involving Jesus is compassion. She also argued that even though God is considered the Great Healer, it does not go against Christian spirituality to take one’s own life, because it is based in “compassion,” and because she believes God doesn’t want people to suffer.
“We do not have definitive answers for everything, but what I do know for certain is that no one should suffer,” she claimed. “If we don’t have a direct answer from the scripture, then what is the most compassionate response we can possibly give? If we really want to follow the teachings of Jesus about non-violence, maybe we should be aware of the number of people who die every day from the sins of commission, such as warfare, and the sins of omission, which include neglect and famine. How then can we have an issue with someone who chooses to end their life early because they are suffering, but ignore people who die alone without community or from a lack of nutrition? If we want to talk about life, we need to talk about all of life.”
In reality, the Bible repeatedly speaks about suffering — but it does not say that God’s followers should never suffer in their earthly lives; in fact, followers are promised suffering and persecution, with their reward coming in Heaven. While not everyone may prescribe to this particular belief system, it is not a valid Christian argument to say that assisted suicide is acceptable because ‘God doesn’t want Christians to suffer’. Not only that, but as Father Larry Lynn, pro-life chaplain for the Archdiocese of Vancouver explained for B.C. Catholic, this erroneous idea is hardly an anomaly among religions.
“It’s so easy to say that no one should suffer,” he said. “But that is an impossibility because suffering is built into the fabric of life. Birth, life, and death are all engaged in pain and suffering. There’s no way around this. The first noble truth of Buddhism is, ‘Life is suffering.’”
Thou shall not kill?
Eva Goldfinger, another person interviewed for the series, is an ordained spiritual leader of Oraynu and the Secular Humanistic Jewish Movement — meaning she is a humanist and has secular beliefs, as opposed to spiritual. She also argued that assisted suicide does not violate the commandment to not kill.
“MAID is about not prolonging suffering; it would be unethical to do so,” she said. “It is our responsibility to others to support them in their beliefs, help them live a good life, and not control them. It is our responsibility to support others when they choose to end their suffering, it is their choice.”
But by that standard, advocates must explain why assisted suicide is considered acceptable, while so-called “regular” suicide is not. Someone who is experiencing depression is arguably suffering, which is why they want to die. Yet in that scenario, their life is worth saving at virtually all costs. It is only when the person is elderly, ill, disabled, or poor that the desire for suicide is seen as one to be accommodated.
And ultimately, the latter is not that different from the former. Numerous studies, including some published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal, found that people pursue assisted suicide because they feel hopeless, struggle with depression, are afraid of becoming a burden on loved ones, or lack support. When these issues are addressed, the request for assisted suicide is often withdrawn — much like when young, able-bodied, or healthy people feel suicidal.
Additionally, other studies have found that assisted suicide increases the overall suicide rate. In the Southern Medical Journal, a study found that “legalizing assisted suicide is associated with a 6.3 percent increase in the total suicide rate – including both assisted and non-assisted suicides. For the over-65 age group, the increase is 14.5 percent.”
The question for people like Goldfinger is whether all lives have value and are worth living, not just the young and healthy.
Assisted suicide vs. extending life
Retired Anglican priest Yme Woensdregt told Dying with Dignity Canada that the focus of his ministry was to “not worry too much about rules, doctrines and practices.” When it comes to assisted suicide, Woensdregt admitted that his thinking is colored by his wife’s experience with a glioblastoma, and said she would have opted for MAiD if she had the choice.
Furthermore, Woensdregt argued that killing patients does not mean doctors are playing God any more than when they treat them for cancer with chemotherapy. “A common concern that arises is the idea of ‘playing God’ by hastening death, and my response is to consider the other ways in which we control life and death, such as chemotherapy or insulin to prolong life,” he said. “This approach has formed part of the basis of my philosophy of why not providing answers but asking appropriate questions allows people to have some agency in their own life and death. I’m not playing God, they are not playing God, instead we are asking significant and important questions about what it means to be a human being given the circumstances of their life.”
It’s not entirely surprising that someone who describes himself as “God’s loyal opposition” seems not to understand the difference between saving a life and ending one.
Care instead of killing
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the campaign is masking the reality of what assisted suicide actually is. “We can sell killing in many ways,” he said. “But defining euthanasia as an act of compassion, in a Christian sense, negates the reality of what it really is – an act of killing.”
Meanwhile, Parliament is considering expanding assisted suicide in Canada already, and using religion to promote assisted suicide is especially troublesome considering the example already set in the country, as well as by the organization itself.
Dying with Dignity Canada has advocated for forcing religious medical facilities to participate in assisted suicide; the government had already done just that in Nova Scotia in 2019, forcing a Catholic hospital to include assisted suicide in its services. And it was something Dying with Dignity celebrated at the time. “We hope that this is the start and that Nova Scotia’s regulation, Nova Scotia’s position will be used as a model in other jurisdictions across the country. We’re certainly pushing for that,” said Jim Cowan, chair of Dying with Dignity.
For Dying with Dignity Canada to advocate for religious freedoms to be violated, while then exploiting religion to push assisted suicide, shows just how little the organization understands or cares about actual spirituality.
“In the truest sense, compassion is not about killing,” Schadenberg said. “It is about being and journeying with the person, it is about providing relief to the sufferer not death to the sufferer. Sadly, we all have fear of dying a bad death; the answer is not to kill, as euthanasia is, but to care. “The good Samaritan doesn’t end a stranger’s suffering by killing him, but rather he cares for him and uses his own resources to provide for his recovery.”
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